Report from Tomorrow - Vol 24
1USD = 40 Thai baht
Still in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is a center for many artisans, so our much of our time there was spent touring "factories" - jewelry, always a favorite of Mary (Thailand has some of the largest gemstone mines), laquerware, painted fans, silk, and furniture. Being a wood lover, I kept trying to come up with an excuse why we had to buy one of their splendid pieces in teak or rosewood (rosewood is so dense it takes a diamond tipped saw blade to cut it), but failed.
Our last night in Chiang Mai we attended the Thai cultural center where we saw some traditional Thai dancing and were fed mediocre food. Afterwards we visited the local night market - three floors of a large building jammed with stalls of people selling all sorts of crafts. Mary found some weaving and would have liked more time here.
We were good guests and left the local economy substantially richer and our bags a bit heavier as we started on the last leg of our Thai journey.
Chiang Rai is a much smaller city in the northern most tip of Thailand. This was very rural with rice fields and plantations seemingly mixed in with the city itself.
We drove to Chiang Rai by van which gave us a great chance to see the countryside. It was raining and the clouds were low, obscuring the surrounding hills, but it was a refreshing change from the city life we've come to know.
It was time for planting one of the two rice crops and the fields were busy with groups of people standing in flooded fields. The first step is to plant one field with rice which grows very closely together. When that has grown a foot or so above the water, they will pull it all up and transplant it to other fields, setting each plant about one foot apart from the others. It's very labor intensive, but the fields are small (100 feet on a side ?) and a dozen or so people work together. The fields are prepared with small motorized rotor tillers.
We stopped at an elephant camp and watched the handlers bath the elephants and saw a demonstration of how the elephants work in the forests. We also took a ride on the elephants, down a trail and then back to camp up the river. We sat in a chair tied to the elephant's back. Boy, they sure do walk slowly! I was glad for the chair when we went down slope (see elephant-riding.jpg and mt-elephant-ride.jpg)
Lunch was at Tha Ton on the Mae Kok river (see tha-ton-tribe-woman.jpg). We had been scheduled for a boat trip on a "long tailed boat", but chose to skip it because the river was in flood stage. A long tailed boat is a long thin boat with a large motor mounted in the back. It drives a propeller which is mounted on a long pole (15 feet or so) which the driver moves around to steer the boat. You've probably seen these in movies. I'm glad we skipped the exerpience after hearing them roar by on the river. Two or three hours of that noise would not have been fun.
We continued on to the RimKok Resort Hotel in Chiang Mai - the poorest hotel we stayed in (4th class) on the trip. The grounds were quite nice, but the place had not been kept up and had that 10 year old Holiday Inn feel. Being off season and just outside town, there was hardly anyone around. Still, all in all, the accommodations were just fine.
In Chiang Rai we saw lots of roadside stands selling fresh pineapple, stopped and sampled some. Mmmmm, it was astoundingly sweet - and sooo juicy! It was far better than the stuff we see in stores here and well, let's just say, the only resemblence canned Dole pineapple has with the real stuff is that they are both yellow!
On our last touring day in Thailand, our guide took us to visit two hill tribes, "one dirty, one clean". The van drove a short distance over poor rural back roads and then climbed a long steep hill. Suddenly, out here in the middle of seemingly no where, we encountered a construction project to put a brand new road in. We were about to enter a pretty amazing place of contrasts as we visited the Akha (ack'-ha) and the Yao.